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Surrey sets up open planning data survey



County council tests case for releasing planning application data under open licences

Surrey County Council has put out a call to other local authorities for their views on whether information on planning applications should be made available as open data.

It has set up an online survey asking for ideas on how the data could be used, as a step towards building a business case for changes in the relevant regulations that would make the move possible.

The Open Data Institute has highlighted the campaign, with invitations to explore the Surrey Planning Hub and information published by the council on Data.Gov.UK.

Robert Steel, digital platform manager for data publication at Surrey County Council, says in a blog that planning data is still classed as derived data by Ordnance Survey (OS), which effectively prevents it being available for any commercial reuse.

He says the council has been been told it cannot release much of its planning information because detailed data within it, such as addresses and map coordinates, create a risk to OS commercial operations.

Widespread impacts

“Planning is a popular and important topic that impacts the whole country from society to business to public services,” he says. “We’ve got smart cities, a housing crisis, government digital transformation, a data revolution, loss of greenfield land, land grabbing by large developers, massive flooding problems and the most advanced open data movement in the world.

“Surely we ought to be using data to help bring transparency, innovation and ultimately solutions to some of these issues. At the moment, though, our planning data is locked up behind restrictive licensing.”

Surrey has created its own Planning Hub to expose live data from 12 councils via an application programme interface or on embeddable map.

Level playing field

A spokesperson for Ordnance Survey responded by saying it supports the commercial use of the data, but has to apply its own commercial licence to ensure it stays "on a level playing field" with private sector operators. This is why the planning data was included in the exemptions under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) and One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA).

"We are always ready and willing to discuss the development of commercial licensing terms and are keen to support Surrey County Council in exploring ways we can assist them with this," he said.

"The PSMA and OSMA already enable local authorities to make their datasets widely available on an unrestricted basis to other public sector members, for display to the general public, to their contractors, or for general download by the public, but on end user terms which, whilst not open, are industry standard.

"We are aware that Surrey County Council already make use of these terms to share this data within the public sector and with the public."

He added that Ordnance Survey is supporting open data and looking to develop relevant licensing models.

"We are keen supporters of open data wherever it is feasible within our Government approved business model," he said. "We have approved the open release of the vast majority of exemption requests made via the PSMA and OSMA."

Picture from Open Data Institute, CC BY 2.0

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